Magazine article The Spectator

Doing Good by Stealth and Doing Evil by Debauching Charity

Magazine article The Spectator

Doing Good by Stealth and Doing Evil by Debauching Charity

Article excerpt

Here is a true tale, told to me on excellent authority. Some years ago, a senior civil servant died suddenly, probably as the result of years of conscientious overwork. By one of those bureaucratic anomalies arising from wartime service, his widow found herself very badly off. She decided she would have to remove her two sons from their boarding school. She went to see the headmaster to explain her predicament and in the faint hope that some eleemosynary solution could be found. The headmaster said, `But there is no problem. The boys' fees have already been provided for up to the time they finish school.' He said he was unable to disclose the benefactor. But the lady, by dint of detective work, discovered his name. It was Edward Heath. He was not at all pleased to be thanked; distinctly gruff, in fact. My informant tells me it is part of a pattern of Heathian behaviour.

I must admit that the tale has led me to see Heath in an entirely new light, and it has had the same effect on everyone I have told it to. So I think it should be published, even though it may annoy old Ted. Doing good by stealth is a heroic form of charity, sometimes perversely practised by those who are popularly reputed to be hardhearted. There is the case of the deputy chairman of a big international corporation, notorious for driving merciless bargains with firms on the financial ropes. His wife told me that, just before they were married, he obliged her - under threat of calling the whole thing off - to sign a matrimonial contract of exceptional severity, just to keep his hand in, as it were; he has never since referred to it and has proved a model husband. Many years later, she discovered, by chance, that he has his own list of secret charities, all of them sad cases of desperate people who have no idea where the help is coming from. She mentioned it to him and he flew into a rage, shouting, `Do you want to ruin my reputation?'

An even more interesting case is the late Earl Cadogan, owner of one of the biggest London estates. An anonymous donor provided a large sum for a worthy London charity, on condition that another rich metropolitan matched it. Various people were tapped, including Cadogan. He declined to give the money and flatly refused to explain his reasons to the press. It was none of their business, he said. This got him some unfavourable publicity, and one vicious and ill-informed organ made him the winner of its *Shit of the Year' competition. Cadogan made no protest. Nor did he sue. His contempt for the press was such that he refused to have any contact whatever, even hostile, with its minions. Only after his death did I hear that he himself was the anonymous donor. Now that is heroic virtue of a high order, which should make every journalist feel small, for real digging could have unearthed the truth in the first place.

Once or twice I have done good by stealth, but on the whole I don't believe in it. It is not quite fair to the recipient. And I don't like mysteries. I never lend money, on Polonius's principle, but now that I have more than I need or want, I sometimes give it to people who get into messes. It is quite true, as the Bible says, that `it is more blessed to give than to receive'. As you get older you discover that helping people who really need it is the greatest of human pleasures. But it has its dangers. Only this year I discovered the sad truth of the adage `No good deed ever goes unpunished'. …

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